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Henry Koerner, A Master of Magic Realism Long Overlooked, Regains Spotlight with November 22 Auction at Sotheby’s

November 19, 2021 GMT

NEW YORK, Nov. 18, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Austrian-American artist, and the preeminent Magic Realist, Henry Koerner, who was touted by Life Magazine as having the, “best paintings to date that have come out of the war,” will have his painting, “The Pigeons,” auctioned off on November 22 at Sotheby’s Auction House in New York City. The Pigeons is a masterwork of Koerner’s, and its brilliance was recognized by The Metropolitan Museum where it hung for more than two years from 2016-2018.

The painting’s current owner, Morris Grossman, who was Koerner’s former neighbor and close friend, describes the painting as, “a striking confluence of simple incidents taken from everyday observations that create the overwhelming sense of estrangement that makes this painting one of the masterpieces of the post-war era.” Morris also noted the historical significance of Koerner’s masterwork, saying that, “The international challenges involving the cultural war against the Soviets represent a unique time period in art history and American history.”


In 1947, the U.S. state department selected Koerner to be the first artist to exhibit in post-war Berlin. It was part of the CIA’s operation Long Leash; a cultural campaign to purposely counter art created in the Soviet Union. This marked the return of the objectivity genre, which had been banned and termed, “degenerate art by the Nazis.” “The Berlin exhibition provided Koerner with a meteoric rise in the New York art community and garnered international acclaim. In 1948, a Life Magazine article featuring Henry Koerner asked the question, ‘is this America’s greatest artist?’ In 1949, Jackson Pollock had the same feature, rocketing him to be the preeminent artist of the 20th century,” said Nick Brucker, CEO and Founder of Sparq Designs. “Unfortunately, Koerner’s attention and accolades would ultimately be short lived,” Brucker added.

In 1952 the CIA’s cultural campaign shifted their partisan endorsement— and their propaganda apparatus— to advancing Abstract Impressionism and artists like Jackson Pollock. “Once the CIA transitioned to promoting abstract art, much of the art world dismissed the brilliance of Magic Realism, and artists like Koerner were completely forgotten, until recently.” said Grossman.

The trend in contemporary art has moved towards realism with the advent of artists like Jordan Casteel, Aliza Nizenbaum and Nicole Eisenman. “Monday’s auction represents the first Magic Realists masterwork ever to come to auction and gives collectors the rarest of opportunities to acquire the work of one of the great 20th century artists and a piece of American history,” Brucker said.


Koerner was born in Vienna in 1915 and studied at Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943, ordered to the Graphics Division of the Office of Strategic Services in Washington, D.C., and later Germany, where he sketched the defendants at the Nuremberg trials. The famous painter moved to Pittsburgh in 1953 to teach at the Pennsylvania College for Women, now known as Chatham University, and finally settled in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood. He designed over 40 covers for Time Magazine, working straight from the subject and never from a photograph. Koerner suffered an untimely death in 1991, when he was struck by a vehicle in Vienna and succumbed to his injuries.

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SOURCE Sparq Designs